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Special Content

Issue no 27, 02-08 October 2021

India@75: Gandhiji's Undying Relevance

Professor N Radhakrishnan

How does one explain the phenomenon of having the power to attract an estimated number of over 30,000 people every day to the Gandhi Memorial at Rajghat in Delhi where the Father of the Nation was consigned to flames? Among those who come there are men and women, children, youth, physically challenged, people of all religions, diplomats, Heads of foreign nations and people from all walks of life. They don't come like tourists but come like pilgrims of peace and harmony. The eyes of many well with tears as they go round the marble slabs to pay their respects to the prophet of peace. Once when this writer ventured to ask what their impressions were on visiting the final resting place of the Mahatma, two young men who came from the rural depths of Bihar said, "He died for us. This is a place of inspiration and introspection for us.

" There is no reason to disbelieve these young men. Gandhi stood like a sentinel between the warring communities and groups. By shedding his blood at the altar of communal harmony, Gandhi effected a truce which acted like a cementing force. Gandhi taught that violence begets greater violence. The miracle Gandhi achieved in Noakhali and other places where men had become beasts is part of history and his lead continues to inspire a considerable segment of Indian masses as well as human rights activists, freedom fighters and those who seek alternative life styles and ecological protection. The deep impression Gandhi was able to make on the global psyche is also unparalleled.

Elimination of factors which promote structural violence requires to be given utmost importance. Removal of the vestiges of social evils like untouchability once and for all, gender inequality, ensuring of social justice and employment opportunities to millions of youth are among the unfinished tasks in the Gandhian agenda as we reflect on the contemporary challenges in the context of the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence.

The India of Gandhi's dreams         

As we reflect on the 75th anniversary of our independence we have every reason to feel proud of our achievements since the British left India.

 "I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there will be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in harmony. Women shall enjoy the same rights as men... All interests not in conflict with the interest of the mute millions will be scrupulously respected, whether foreign or indigenous. I hate distinction between foreign and indigenous," the Mahatma wrote on his vision of an India.

The 18-point Constructive Program — the biggest gift of the Mahatma, which helped in winning freedom for the country, has been taken only casually by his countrymen. The passion with which Gandhi advocated these programs had the familiar Gandhian stamp of holistic development and development with compassion and without destruction. It took forty six years for the nation to implement Panchayati Raj — that great blueprint of the second stage of Revolution which Gandhiji envisioned. Panchayati Raj, when it was first implemented, was not in the form expected by Gandhiji, but what is important is that it exists as part of our system. It was indeed a great leap and a sure step towards empowerment of people and decentralization.

Gandhian vision of planning from the grassroots

Gandhiji propounded planning from the bottom, power to the people and involvement of people in the very process of development based on local needs taking into account not only the needs of each of the villages but also the realities of the situation. This dream of Gandhiji, if realized will give both economic fibre to the society and spiritual strength to the individuals. The ever-widening circles which Gandhi spoke about will offer sustainable and progressive character to life itself. It is hoped that the villages, which during the last 74 years of our independence, remained the backyard of our comparatively prosperous and unclean cities and towns, will no longer be dependent on the cities and towns once local planning will offer the village youth, peasants, women, craftsmen and artisans gainful employment right in their own villages. Gandhi pleaded for Agriculture to be given proper attention. By agriculture what is meant here is not commercial agriculture but that agriculture which will make the villagers self-sufficient in food. It should not be market-oriented. Its primary objective should be to give food to the food growers. The example provided to us by Fukuoka in Japan should be a model. All small land holding farmers will have to be provided some farmland for 'natural farming'. This natural farming will not require chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc. which will, in the long run, destroy the quality and fertility of the soil. By adopting natural farming, we will be giving both health and rest to the soil long enough to enable it to regain its fertility. The One Straw Revolution by Fukuoka offers immense possibilities for adoption.

Gandhi pointed out that unless enough employment opportunities are created right in each of the villages, we will soon face a situation which will not only create city life burdened with over-crowding, pollution, increasing crimes, over burgeoning of slums but also the disquieting trend of unemployed youth falling into the hands of those who offer immediate 'Revolution' and other avenues bordering on terrorism and other escapades. We should learn enough lessons from the developments when a few years ago, the truck owners, milk suppliers and vegetable growers in the states neighbouring Delhi went on strike pressing their demands on different occasions. Life almost came to a standstill, besides rise in prices of these items which forced the common public to go without vegetables and milk, sending shock-waves all round. It is a fact that the cities do not produce any of the essential items of food; they depend on villages and when those items produced in the villages do not reach the urban centres, both the urban and the rural centres suffer.

100 years of Charkha and Khadi

The nation thoughtfully celebrated the 100th anniversary of Gandhi's Charkha and Khadi recently.

 When Gandhiji propounded the Charkha and spinning, he did not consider it as a magic wand which will remove the poverty of India at one stroke, nor did he view it essentially as something that would meet all the economic needs of those who take to spinning. It certainly had an economic content but its ability to reform individual and shape national character was more significant for radical transformation of the society where exploitation still existed in some form or the other. Much more than any of these, Gandhiji hoped, it will bring back the message of plain, simple and honest living. It will be an instrument for transforming our society into a nonviolent, classless and egalitarian one; it will also act as an instrument of liberation and a means of rebuilding of society from within, as a self-dependent healthy social organism.

How far are we today from this dream? This is the question each one of us has to ask. Those who scoff at the Charkha should be able to offer an alternative. It may be noted that until today, nobody has been able to offer a credible alternative to Charkha. It is here that the relevance of Charkha comes in.

"Indeed, I believe that Independent India can only discharge her duty towards a groaning world by adopting a simple but ennobled life, by developing her thousands of cottage industries and living at peace with the world. High thinking is inconsistent with complicated material life based on high speed imposed on us by Mammon worship. All the graces of life are possible only when we learn the art of living nobly," Gandhi wrote in Harijan on September 1, 1946.

 The amazing, perhaps alarming, manner in which social structures have been changing, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the breathtaking developments in the field of science and technology, have added new anxieties for the entire humanity. These winds have been sweeping across India as well in a big way. In all sense, a new civilization, a new world order, a new style of living, have almost set in, whether anyone likes it or not. Gandhi's contribution or relevance needs to be viewed in the light of these emerging scenarios as well as the basic rhythm of life. To some, Gandhi was a dreamer, Utopian pacifist whose formulations are impracticable. However, the number of those who believe that he was eminently practical is very large. Gandhi himself believed that he was a practical 'idealist'.

Knitting India into a modern nation

Gandhiji knit this 'ethnic museum' into a modern nation from a motley crowd of ethnic and linguistic identities who had lost their courage to stand up and fight for justice. He infused courage into the Indians to discover themselves and shed fear. In this process, he became the voice of the voiceless and a slave nation suddenly found its utterances and he thus molded a new generation of freedomloving people who were not afraid of torture, jails, or death. He also offered a credible non violent alternative, and in a way, he was challenging all those who scoffed at him and paved the way for a new civilization to emerge.

 It is for us to draw our lesson and shape our destiny. Do we have the courage? That is the big question staring at each of us as we enter the 75th anniversary of our hardwon freedom. What the nation needs is an honest introspection to find out where we have gone wrong since Independence. We need to work for rejuvenation of our society. It may also be debated as to what is the relevance of Gandhi's insistence on simple living in the light of the growing consumeristic culture. Is Gandhi out of tune with the changing times or is he not reminding us of the law of Nature?

(The author is Chairman, Gandhi Peace Mission.

 He can be reached at drnradhakrishnan@gmail.com)

(Views expressed are personal)